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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Standing with our mission


Condemning St. Joe’s discriminatory actions

Noel Koenke, a former director of music for Campus Ministry who openly identified as gay, was hired at St. Joe’s in 2010 and said she expected that as a Jesuit institution, the university would embrace her given its stated support for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

During Koenke’s employee orientation, the Office of Human Resources gave her a nondiscrimination and harassment policy which stated, “Harassment on the basis of one’s sexual orientation can also constitute discrimination on the basis of sex. For an incident to constitute harassment, it must be offensive to a reasonable person.”

However, Koenke was discriminated against by members of the administration and her colleagues due to her sexual orientation, causing her to leave her position in Campus Ministry and subsequently file a discrimination lawsuit in October 2019.

Being told to use discretion regarding her marriage is an overt form of harassment and discrimination that directly contradicts the Jesuit ideals our university is founded upon. The university’s treatment of Koenke raises questions about our commitment to inclusivity and highlights the contradiction between the university’s Jesuit mission and its actions.

The university’s mission statement clearly states that we “[Strive] to be an inclusive and diverse community that educates and cares for the whole person…” The hallmarks of Jesuit values, cited in our mission statement, call upon our community and upon us as individuals to promote the human dignity of all people. At this university, we should treat everyone with the utmost dignity and respect, and the university should do the same.

In a letter sent to Koenke from St. Joe’s Human Resources, the university argued that her same-sex relationship contradicted Catholic doctrine: “In the context of this ministerial role and position, your marriage to another person of the same sex presents a direct conflict with the established teaching of the Catholic Church, which does not endorse or recognize such marriages as part of the Church’s foundational doctrines.”

The overarching message in the letter from Human Resources is that the university’s primary duty is to uphold Catholic teaching. While we agree that our Catholic roots are important, we believe that the values of our Jesuit identity are more important than specific lines of doctrine.

Although the university may believe “fidelity to Catholic teaching comes in conflict with the actions of those employees,” as stated by the letter, the greater contradiction was the university’s failure to uphold the Jesuit value of inclusion and the core foundations of the religion.

According to Koenke, she was told the reason she was asked to use discretion in regards to her same sex relationships was to avoid tension between St. Joe’s and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. If this is the case, the university chose their connection with the Archdiocese over their own institutional mission. As a Jesuit institution, what should be prioritized above all is treating people with respect rather than being controlled by discriminatory doctrine.

Catholic doctrine is not an excuse to overtly discriminate and harass a person. Catholicism, the Jesuit tradition and our university mission all emphasize the importance of inclusivity. The Jesuits in particular are known for their outreach to marginalized individuals.

When James Martin, S.J., an advocate for the LGBT community in the Catholic Church, came to speak on campus on Sept. 17, 2019, he stated: “Jesus’ main message was one of love and compassion and mercy, and he’s also reaching out first to people along the margins. The people on the margins most in our church today are LGBT people.”

If the university is going to have a mission statement preaching inclusivity and caring for the whole person, then they have to live up to it. We have a responsibility, and an even greater responsibility as a Jesuit institution, to show dignity and respect to all people.

The Editorial Board stands with Koenke and the LGBT community. We urge the university to take a stand supporting the LGBT community and all marginalized people on campus, and call on the administration to act in accordance with the university’s Jesuit mission of inclusivity.

— The Hawk Editorial Board

This week’s Editorial Board is comprised of the Managing Editor, Online Editor, Opinions Editor, Editorial Page Editor, Features Editor, Assistant Features Editor, Photo Editor. This editorial reflects the views of the Board and not the entire Hawk staff.

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